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Brendan Gaughan adds liveliness to Nationwide Series

Nationwide Series racing will be considerably more fun this year.

One of the reasons is that Brendan Gaughan is dropping in to drive and have some fun.

Gaughan doesn’t have to race. He doesn’t need the money. What he needs is the rush.

The son of Las Vegas hotel/casino mover and shaker Michael Gaughan, Brendan lives in Vail, Colo., has spent most of the winter skiing on the slopes of the Rockies and appears not to have a care in the world.

His non-racing schedule is sort of like this: Pick an adventure and do it.

When the weather turns warm in March, he plans to be off the coast of Mexico, scuba-diving to depths of 400 feet, mainly to see what strange and unusual creatures exist in that environment. He doesn’t necessarily want Rusty Wallace, his new team owner and sort of boss, to know too much about that expedition, so don’t spread the word.

This is typical Brendan Gaughan stuff. He has played college football and college basketball. He has tried a couple of rodeo events. He has raced cars and trucks and has driven off a cliff in the Baja 1000 desert race. It is suspected that he has jumped from an airplane without a parachute, but there’s no confirmation of that.

It shouldn’t be that surprising, then, that Gaughan is headed off on another wacky adventure in racing this year. At 33 years old and with a lot of racing mileage under his belt, he has landed in a space few would have predicted – he’s competing for the Nationwide Series title as Rookie of the Year.

Gaughan won the Craftsman Truck (now Camping World) rookie-of-the-year title in 2002 and came within one bad wreck in the season’s final race of winning that series’ championship in 2003.

In 2004, he raced for the Sprint Cup rookie title while driving out of the Penske Racing shop, finishing second but not having the productive season that might have been expected. He returned to the Truck series, and, because of the strong contacts and considerable history he had there, perhaps looked to run the pickups forever.

Instead, Wallace and Gaughan’s father worked out a deal to put Gaughan in Wallace cars for the full Nationwide tour this season. Since he’s a fresh face in NASCAR’s No. 2 series, why not run for the rookie award?

In Gaughan’s case, you almost never ask why. It’s usually why not, and usually he can’t find a reason. So he just does it.

He had no real plans to pursue a driver’s seat in the Nationwide Series, but – bam – the deal came together relatively late, primarily because of Wallace’s persistence. So away they go ­– two of the garage’s more interesting personalities in pursuit of a championship together.

Gaughan, who normally finds a way to make even the down days up, is about as “rookie” as possible in the Nationwide series. He has raced in only one series event, and that run was quite brief. He parked in a 2001 race at Fontana, Calif., after only six laps because of electrical problems.

Only in NASCAR can a guy who’s bounced around the sport for more than a few years claim rookie status. And, as far as Gaughan is concerned, why not?

Commentary by Mike Hembree

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